Sarah Chapman MSocSc (Hons), PGDipRep, MgtCert (Open), MNZPI
The New Zealand Planning Institute notes with great sadness the untimely passing of Sarah
Margaret Chapman, MNZPI, who lost her valiant battle with cancer last month.
Professionally, Sarah managed to cram a lot of planning experience into a comparatively
short career. The daughter of an academic, her passion for landscape and sea was apparent
from an early age and led her to pursue a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree in Earth Science
and Geography, which she received from the University of Waikato in 1993. She subsequently
added two more qualifications from her alma mater: a 1995 Master of Social Sciences (Hons)
and a 1996 postgraduate Diploma in Resource and Environmental Planning.
In 1995 Sarah began work as an Environmental Planner for Thames and Coromandel District
Council, in whose employ she remained until 1998, when she co-founded - together with Graeme
Lawrence and Bain Cross - the firm of Lawrence, Cross and Chapman In 1999-2000 she spent 20
months in Germany with her husband Trevor, during which time she not only managed to maintain
her involvement with LCC back home, she also racked up a further qualification in the form
of a Professional Certificate in Management from Britain’s Open University.
Sarah’s expertise in policy development and analysis, plan implementation and monitoring,
Regional and District integration and cross boundary issues brought her into contact with a
wide variety of stakeholders. Equally at home engaging with public sector entities, the
private sector, tangata whenua and community groups, she was much appreciated for her
professional acumen, intellectual rigour, straightforward approach and personal warmth.
Sarah had the rare ability to ‘join the dots’ between the strategic ‘big picture’ and
on-the-ground implementation. Her willingness to take the initiative and do whatever it took
to get the job done – which frequently involved meeting challenging deadlines - was highly
regarded by colleagues and clients. And, as many of her younger colleagues can attest, she
was an enthusiastic and patient mentor.
As a resource management specialist, Sarah was a class act. Many of the projects she
handled were highly complex and, in some cases, marked by adversarial relationships.
Crucially, she was able to deftly mediate between the conflicting interests involved and help
forge groundbreaking solutions. She will be particularly remembered for her work in
evaluating and formulating regional and district policy and planning provisions in the Waikato
and Auckland Regions and in the Thames-Coromandel, Waipa and Franklin Districts. Her
insightful input into the development of regional geothermal policy for the Waikato Region
and, most recently, the conceptually difficult and complex Lake Taupo variation to control
nitrogen inputs will be especially remembered.
Her able assistance to senior council staff on the analysis and assessment of large and
highly complex applications for consent and the decisive expert evidence she provided to the
Environment Court reflect the clarity and tenacity that characterized her professional
approach. Protection of natural qualities of Kaipara Harbour, public access along coastal
margins at Hot Water Beach, the historic heritage and amenity value of State houses in Hayes
Paddock in Hamilton and Waikato Geothermal Policy development represent examples of the
assistance she provided to the Environment Court.
Equally committed to making an academic contribution to planning theory, Sarah was also
involved in two research programmes on, respectively, CLIMPACTS relating to climate change
adaptation and Planning Under Cooperative Mandates, undertaken by the University of Waikato’s
International Global Change Institute with funding from the Foundation of Research, Science
And let’s not downplay the zest and stamina Sarah brought to her social life! An
inveterate event planner, she was an active participant in NZPI conferences, Waikato branch
activities and on the organising committee for NZPI’s Hamilton Conference. More recently she
didn’t even let chemotherapy treatment get in the way of her attendance at the Great Race
Ball, indeed she tackled her last illness with the same grit and positive attitude she
brought to the rest of her life.
While Sarah will be sorely missed by her husband Trevor, son Alex, her family, business
partners, colleagues and many friends both in New Zealand and internationally. Her
intellectual acuity, poise, strength of character and spirit will continue to inspire everyone
who had the privilege of knowing her long into the future.
This obituary is published in the New Zealand Planning Quartely, March 2007.
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